Uncharted territory for me today as I headed to Pinner in northwest London to visit a museum dedicated to a man whose name became a noun used to describe fantastical machines over-engineered to carry out simple tasks – W. Heath Robinson. From here on in I am going to refer to him as WHR to save on the typing.
I’ve had a fascination with WHR’s drawings for as long as I can remember, certainly back to my childhood. I can’t remember where I first came across him but I was keen to learn some more.
Pinner was where Heath Robinson grew up so it was an obvious place for the museum to be sited. On a normal day, it would have been fine to get to but due to a cracked rail between Reading and Paddington, the trains were moving at a snail’s pace. However, there were plenty of them and I had my headphones so I listened to podcasts on a journey that took twice as long as usual.
It was just a short walk from Pinner station to the museum which was situation in a lovely little park at the top of a short rise. The museum is housed in a modern-looking, purpose built building and it was obvious even from a distance that this was going to be a small museum.
A Tale of Two Halves
Inside the museum was a shop and reception space behind which there were only two rooms – a permanent collection, or a small part of it at least, and then a space with a temporary exhibition.
I started in the permanent bit and a woman followed me in and started telling me about the collection and the man. I was worried that she might follow me around but she left pretty quickly and I could go round at my own place.
There were actually very few pictures there, thirty maybe from the two collections that have been donated to the museum, but it was well laid out and structured following his life and grouped by works such as advert, watercolours, books etc. There were informative panels at knee height explaining where he was in his life journey and how that affected what he was working on – so new child born led to the need to earn more money for example, although it wasn’t put quite as crudely as that.
There was one wall that contained his most familiar style of work with the fantastical contraptions but always based around solving a simple problem in an outlandish way. What I hadn’t realised was that had led to a series of popular books with titles such as “How to Make a Garden Grow” and “How to be a Perfect Husband” which sound like real trailblazers for the spoof Ladybird books that were popular Christmas stocking fillers a few years ago.
I was incredibly taken with the level of detail that WHR achieved with just a blank piece of paper and black ink pen. I was fascinated by the image (below) of the woman lying on the floor with the ghoul emerging from the shadows which expresses so much out of so little. A real talent.
Another Reason to Visit
You shouldn’t really need encouraging to visit the small but perfectly formed Heath Robinson Museum but if you are wavering and you need something to tip you over the edge here’s another one.
I don’t normally do this but I’m going to give a food recommendation! Next door to the museum, in West House, was the really rather excellent Daisy’s in the Park cafe where I went for lunch after my visit. The food was all freshly sourced and there was an interesting selection available. I had the salmon bagel with autumn slaw. I think that they had managed to fit a whole side of salmon in the bagel along with a fried egg, avocado and cream cheese. The ‘slaw packed a real punch too taking the record for the hottest salad I’ve had in a while.
A perfect way to end a great visit.